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B&G Club to host program honoring 1963 Leesburg Stockade Girls

AMERICUS — The Boys & Girls Club of Americus-Sumter County is sponsoring a program to commemorate the bravery of the 1963 Leesburg Stockade Girls. This program will be held at 1 p.m. April 4 in the Storm Dome of Georgia Southwestern State University.

The life and legacy of the 15 young black female adolescents held hostage in the Leesburg Stockade will be commemorated. Those living are Shirley Green-Reese, Willie Mae Smith-Davis, Carol Barner-Seay, Melinda Jones-Williams, Verna Hollis, Billie Jo Thornton-Allen, Diane Dorsey-Bowens, Lula Westbrooks-Griffin, Emmarene Kaigler Streeter and Laura Ruff-Saunders. Those deceased are Pearl Brown, Mattie Crittenden, Sandra Russell-Mansfield, Annie Lou Ragans-Laster and Gloria Westbrooks. These girls, ages 11-15, played an instrumental role in shaping the civil rights movement in Americus, Dawson and Leesburg during the 1960s.

The survivors of this horrendous ordeal will break their silence to share how the intricacies of their illegal imprisonment and abuse impacted their lives.

Shirley Green Reese said the event is fittingly being held on the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to published reports in 1963, the girls were standing in front of the Martin Theater in Americus when they were taken away to the Lee County Stockade where they remained for two months during the sweltering July and August. The girls’ families did not know where their daughters were. They survived on four hamburgers a day and had inadequate bathroom facilities and couldn’t even take a bath. They slept on the floor among roaches and debris.

Finally, a photographer, Danny Lyon, managed to get inside the stockade and documented the girls and their horrendous living conditions. His shocking images would lead to the girls’ release.

Reese said Lyon, who now lives in New York City, will be in attendance at the April 4 event. She said six of the “girls” will be attendance and two will be represented by their family members.

Keynote speaker is from the Smithsonian Institute, Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din, museum specialist. The National Museum of African-American History and Culture, is to open in January 2016.

“We’ll be invited,” Reese said.

Others on the guest list for the April 4 event include Michael Moore, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia; U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop, D-Georgia; state Rep. Mike Cheokas, D-Americus; Ann S. Emmanuel, professor emeritus, College of Law, Georgia State University and author; Leesburg Mayor Jim Quinn; Dawson Mayor Christopher Wright; the Rev. Melvin McCluster, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Americus; Dr. Damon Williams, senior vice president and chief education officer for B & G Clubs of America; Ruthie Harris and the Albany Civil Rights Institute Singers; Dr. Gwendolyn West, professor, Florida Memorial University; Eric West of Americus; and the Rev. Roosevelt Zanders, interview CEO, Americus-Sumter Boys & Girls Club; and , Mrs. Elisabeth Omilami, Hosea Williams’ daughter, among others. Yolanda Amadeo of WALB Albany will be emcee.Mrs. Elisabeth Omilami, Hosea Williams’ daughter has confirmed to be one of the speakers for the program on April 4, 2015.

The event is free and open to the public. Funds are being raised by selling sponsorships in the printed program and accepting donations. The programs will on sale for $5 each at the event.

“We’re raising money to try to keep the doors of the Boys & Girls Club open,” Reese said.

Reese said five of the deceased girls and their parents will also be recognized. Ray Harris to show a PowerPoint presentation, she said.

“This will be uplifting program; this will not be a sad event,” Reese said. “I am proud to be here to see a lot of changes and to see friendships and collaborations. To Georgia Southwestern and South Georgia Tech students, this is a lesson for all of you. If we went through this, then you can bring about more collaboration.”

To make a donation or be included in the printed program, contact Reese at 229-938-3300 or 404-216-4578 or email reese6363@yahoo.com